2011 Toyota RAV4 Review

A long-time safe bet in the CUV segment, the RAV4 is no longer safe from the competition

2011 Toyota RAV4 Review

It was one of the very first crossovers on sale in the U.S. and over the last fifteen years, Toyota’s RAV4 has carved out a well-deserved reputation as an affordable and reliable small CUV that’s proved especially popular with young adults and families. However, during that time the segment it helped create has morphed into one of the most hotly contested in the automobile business, giving buyers a number of worthy alternatives to Toyota’s original pioneer. That said, does the RAV still have what it takes to remain a top contender?


1. Two engines are offered, a 179-hp 4-cylinder and a 269-hp V6.

2. Fuel economy has been improved and rates from 22/28-mpg (city/hwy) for front-drive 4-cyl models to 19/26-mpg for V6 4WD models.

3. Base, Sport and Limited models are available with either the 4-cylinder or V6 and either FWD or 4WD.

4. New for 2011 is an Upgrade Value Package for Base models that includes a six-CD audio system with XM Radio, steering wheel audio controls, 17-inch wheels, daytime running lights, a moonroof and higher-grade interior fabric.

Although Toyota’s reputation in quality and reliability has taken a battering over the last two years as a result of numerous, highly publicized recalls, essentially all of its product offerings in North America have a stellar reputation for quality, durability and reliability. And as a result still appeal to a wide and captive audience. The RAV4 is no exception.

Extensively redesigned for the 2006 model year, it adopted a more grown up look and a 6.7-inch wheelbase stretch, yielding a more than 20 percent increase in passenger and cargo space. A further modernization for 2009 saw the adoption of a larger, more powerful 179-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (replacing a 166-hp 2.4), equipment shuffles and a mild facelift. For 2011, the little CUV mostly marks time and continues in Base (starting at $21,925), Sport ($23,625) and Limited ($24,915) trim levels, with a choice of front or 4WD drivelines and four-cylinder or V6 engines.


For those used to any Toyota product of the last decade, the current RAV has an air of familiarity. It’s decently put together with good fit and finish, fairly precise panel fit and the paint largely devoid of orange peel – something at still afflicts some rival vehicles.

RAV4 Limited models boast a unique front fascia and deeper grille, which lends a more distinctive and somewhat aggressive look. The doors close with a decent sounding "thwack" but what we can’t understand is why the rear one still hinges open to the right. It’s fine if you live in somewhere like Australia, Japan or the UK, but over here it’s just plain awkward. There were a couple of times when, parked on a city street, we had to venture out into traffic and open the thing – watching out in case we were hit by the mirrors of a passing vehicle. Considering that Toyota markets this vehicle towards young families, it’s a potential safety issue, especially when more than 74 percent of the world’s motoring is done on the right side of the road.


In terms of interior fit, comfort and practicality, the RAV4 scores quite highly. It’s more spacious than the current Honda CR-V and fit and finish are still above much of the competition, including the likes of the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain. Thanks to the Optitron gauges, the dash is legible and easy to read (both day and night), the control stalks solid and easy to operate, plus all the center stack controls are large, functional and fall readily to hand.

The front seats are typical Toyota, fairly wide and comfortable with adequate fore/aft and lumbar adjustment. However, compared with some rivals, the cabin seems a bit austere. Base and Sport trim RAVs come with a rudimentary sound system and lack features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, standard cargo cover, second row HVAC and satellite radio – items that now come standard on many rivals. You can get these features on the RAV, but you have to step up to the Limited (which adds $1,300) or new for 2011 is an Upgrade Value Package that includes a six-CD audio system with XM Radio, steering wheel audio controls, 17-inch wheels, daytime running lights, a moonroof, that cargo cover and higher-grade interior fabric.

For second row riders, seat comfort is decent as is stretching space. Aided by a fairly square roofline, there’s more than 38-inches of head clearance for the second row and almost 39-inches of leg space, enabling two 6-foot plus adults to sit in quality comfort – there’s plenty of space for three kids. The second row seat also handily stows in a 60/40 format providing a welcomed amount of additional cargo space as well as access to the third row seat – a rarity in this segment. The latter is best reserved for a pair of tots, but again headroom is more generous than some other vehicles in the class and when not in use, the third row folds into a well in the floor, allowing for a fully flat loading area.


On the road, the RAV displays fairly pleasant driving characteristics. With the 2.5-liter four-cylinder (rated at 179 horsepower and 172 ft-lbs), acceleration is quite peppy, though the four-speed automatic (the only transmission available with it), feels reluctant to downshift at times, making steep hills or quick passing maneuvers a bit frustrating, especially when you consider that max grunt doesn’t arrive until 4000 rpm and you’ve got 3,400 lbs of weight to haul about.

The V6, by contrast, is a hot rod engine. Rated at 269 horsepower and 246 ft-lbs of torque, it turns the RAV into a sleeper – with gutsy acceleration and an accompanying soundtrack. In fact, Toyota rates the acceleration of the V6 model in the six second range! It pulls hard right through the rev range and has plenty of thrust in reserve for just about anything, and at highway speeds is decently quiet. The five-speed automatic coupled to it is much smoother in operation than the four-speeder on four-cylinder powered RAVs – under acceleration the shifts are crisp and precise, plus despite the V6 also having a fairly peaky torque curve, the five-speed slushbox is well matched to it.

A $160 tow prep package is also offered on the V6, that includes a heavy-duty cooling system, transmission cooler and alternator, enabling the RAV to tow up to 3,500 lbs, making it ideal for towing small boats or watercraft.

As for fuel economy the four-cylinder manages around 22-mpg in town, 28-mpg on the highway for front-drivers and 21/27-mpg for 4x4s. The V6 isn’t far behind at not far behind at 19/27-mpg (4×2) and 19/26-mpg (4×4).


Aided by the fairly long wheelbase, ride quality is comfortable without being to soft and the all-independent suspension does an admirable job in soaking up rough road imperfections. Wind noise is quite noticeable however, especially around the base of windshield at speeds above 65 mph, not something one tends to expect from a Toyota.

Handling is fairly predictable, though at higher speeds through the turns or during quick lane changes, there’s noticeable body roll and front-end understeer – something we do normally expect from a Toyota. The weakest link is the tires – the 215/70/16s as fitted to base models offer merely adequate grip and under load on slippery roads, even with the active limited slip differential, traction on front-drive examples can be tricky at times.

4WD versions offer improved grip, but for maximum road contact it’s best to step up to larger wheels and tires. Toyota does offer bigger 225/65//17 tires on V6 models (a good call in view of this engine’s sprinting ability), while Sports are fitted with 235/55/18s which seem to be highly effective and do a good job in enhancing the bigger motor’s torque – whether in a straight line or through the corners.

The RAV’s priorities remain very much tarmac biased. While you can venture somewhat off the beaten path and the system is great if you live in the snowbelt, the absence of low range means that traction can be difficult and the real rough stuff is best left for other more specialized rigs.

The steering offers decent on center feel during highway driving but under sharp directional changes or fast corners feels a little spongy At slow speeds, however, it’s fairly light touch and the RAVs impressive turning circle makes city parking a doddle. Toyota offers a hill start assist and descent control feature that helps hold the vehicle on hills. It can prove most helpful in urban settings with steep grades (think San Francisco), allowing you to concentrate much more on maneuvering the RAV, especially in busy locations with pedestrians and parked cars.


Although it’s by no means the spring chicken of compact SUVs, despite its 2009 freshening, the RAV4 still manages to deliver a potent package, with good interior space and surprising performance from the V6 powertrain. The optional 3rd row is also a bonus.

While a solid package, there are two important drawbacks to the RAV, namely fuel economy and price. In this hotly contested segment there are newer rivals that offer a greater amount of standard equipment for less money.


2009 Honda CR-V 2010 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT AWD Review 2010 Hyundai Tucson: First Drive

2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD Review 2008 Ford Escape Review 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked